Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 18, 19 or 20
Democrats and Republicans alike voted for the measure to keep government operating, but delivered bipartisan body blows to bystanders.
Passing 219-206 in the House and 56-40 in the Senate, the bill provides funding through the end of the fiscal year for government operations except Homeland Security. Republicans engineered a stopgap scheme to fund that agency only through Feb. 27 so the incoming GOP majority can try to kill President Obama’s immigration initiative (instead of passing legislation to address the problem, of course).
In a 1,600-page bill full of lousy provisions, the worst may be expanding the money wealthy campaign contributors can donate to politicians (instead of a maximum of $194,000 per election cycle, Congress allows $1.6 million per election cycle) and rolling back Dodd-Frank Act protections against Big Banks taking huge risks with the financial “derivatives” trading behind the 2008 economic collapse (and expecting taxpayers to bail out their losses).
“Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citigroup bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail out Citi just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families. It is time – it is past time – for Washington to start working for them!”
More lousy news: The bill enables multiemployer pension plans to cut benefits up to 30 percent to 10 million future and current retirees, most in construction, trucking and mining. That means that Congress is willing to guarantee speculation by Big Banks, but is telling retirees: “You’re on your own.”
It also cuts $332 million from the food stamp program, cuts $60 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and cuts another $345 million from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The EPA has been cut $2.2 billion (about 20 percent) in the last four years. The IRS cuts mean that the agency won’t be able to verify so-called charitable groups aren’t really political organizations.
Republican and Democratic opponents, from progressive populist Warren to Tea Party darling Ted Cruz found some common ground, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the desire to avoid another government shutdown or Obama’s supposedly reluctant endorsement.
Both of Illinois’ U.S. Senators, Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) voted for the bill, as did U.S. Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) and Cheri Bustos (D-Moline). Six members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation voted against the bill, including Democrats Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrrez and Bobby Rush, all of Chicago.
Encouraged by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats (many of whom were defeated in the midterm elections) joined with Republicans. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi opposed it, as did the Congressional Black Caucus.
However, negotiated by a small group of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, the bill – some of which was written by lobbyists – was accepted as the best deal available, according to one Obama spokesman.
Warren disputed that, warning of the domination of democracy by the rich. Citing Republican President Teddy Roosevelt as a trust-buster less concerned about Big Business’ economic power than its political clout, Warren said, “Enough is enough. Enough is enough with Citigroup passing 11th-hour deregulatory provisions that nobody takes ownership over but everybody will come to regret. [The bill does] nothing for the middle class, nothing for community banks, nothing but raise the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out the biggest banks once again.
“We all need to stand and fight this giveaway to the most powerful banks in the country,” she added.
That’s a prizefight that needs to happen.
[PICTURED: Elizabeth Warren, from outsidethebeltway.com.]